The Snowbird Destinations series features six U.S. cities that Canadian retirees might enjoy as a winter retreat, whether travelling for a week or an entire season. Following our series preview, the stops so far have been Taos, N.M. Key West, Fla., San Diego and Palm Springs, Calif.
Stories on the other destinations will follow in the coming weeks.Ed Stephenson came here when he was just out of high school and, though he still loves Canada, he'll probably play here for the rest of his adulthood.
"I followed my teacher here to study guitar," says Mr. Stephenson, a Toronto-area native who now performs regularly with his flamenco group and teaches at Meredith College, an all-female school in the region.
"The weather is nice – we have the beach two hours away and the mountains about two-and-a-half hours away. The economy is pretty strong, and we've got a hockey team – just what a Canadian boy needs," he says.
Mr. Stephenson is not the only Canadian who has come here to live, work or play. "There are a lot of Canadians," says Carmen Forrester, a chemical engineer from Whitby, Ont., who bought a bed-and-breakfast six years ago called Simply Divine in nearby Dunn, N.C.
The Forresters' inn and the cities of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill are located in an area known as the Research Triangle, an eight-county cluster of more than two million people that is rich in history, filled with colleges and other postsecondary institutions and includes the major U.S. Army base Fort Bragg.
And golf. "If you come here, you'd golf," says Ms. Forrester.
The area's courses range from the legendary Pinehurst No. 2 (16th in Golf Magazine's top 100 of the world) to scrubbier-but-fun places all around the hilly landscape.
The winter weather is not Florida-warm in North Carolina – it can dip into single digits. But on a quick visit in December it was possible at mid-day to wear shorts and a light jacket on the back nine of Crooked Creek, a course that caters to locals.
Green fees were lower at this course in the winter – under $50 (U.S.) for 18 holes, a motorized cart and club rentals, and it wasn't necessary to book a tee time in advance. The course wasn't empty but it wasn't particularly crowded, and the other golfers, without exception, were friendly and polite.
"That's what I like about the area, the manners, the hospitality, the pace of life," Ms. Forrester says.
One nice touch in downtown Raleigh is the sight of city "ambassadors" wearing red vests. "We work for the city. We help people with directions, remember where they parked," one ambassador said.
With so many higher-education institutions, the Raleigh area has a great deal of reasonably priced nightlife and fun restaurants. We tried a seafood-and-beef fusion place (appropriately named Cowfish) in a suburban mall, and in the morning we found the requisite downtown hipster café, with friendly, uber-cool baristas with beards and ironic porkpie hats.
On a previous visit, we hit the famous Pit Barbecue in downtown Raleigh. During an even earlier visit, several years ago, we stopped at an authentic, old-time diner-style barbecue, where customers are invited to walk up to the buffet and sample the tender, aptly described "loose meat."
North Carolina barbecue aficionados will argue to the end of time that theirs is the best. Just don't mention this to anyone from Texas.
While Mr. Stephenson moved to the area to advance his musical career, Ms. Forrester says she and her husband, Rob, chose North Carolina because it was halfway between the Greater Toronto Area and Florida. "We decided we didn't want to go all the way to Florida. My mother is in Ottawa, Rob's mother is in Ancaster, [Ont.], and our children are in Ontario," she says.
"We came here first of all for the climate. We weren't getting any younger," adds Ms. Forrester, who along with her husband is in her late 50s.
Both Mr. Stephenson and Ms. Forrester say there is lots to see and do in the area (in addition to golf) for casual winter visitors stopping in from Canada.
"I would catch some college sports, for the whole U.S. college experience," Mr. Stephenson advises. "Maybe North Carolina State or UNC [University of North Carolina, where Michael Jordan was once the school's basketball star]."
Then there's hockey.
Right now the Carolina Hurricanes are competing with the Edmonton Oilers for the dubious title of worst team in the National Hockey League. But it wasn't always that way, notes Mr. Stephenson, a frequent attendee of Canes' games.
He points proudly to the photo on his wall of him posing with the Stanley Cup, which Carolina won in 2006 – 39 years after the last time the Toronto Maple Leafs took home the trophy.
NHL hockey at the Canes' PNC Arena is sparsely attended compared with hockey havens in Canadian or northeastern U.S. cities – the December game we attended was less than half full. The team has good fans, though; it attracts the knowledgeable ones who are really interested in the game.
And true to form, in December the Leafs came to Carolina and lost 4-1.